One in five Canadian students suffer from mental illness, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, but only 20 students attended an on-campus event to discuss mental health issues recently.
The event on Oct. 6 called Movies for Mental Health taught Durham College and UOIT students about the stigma of mental illness during the campus Mental Health Awareness Week.
Marose Bellehumeur, a mental health advisor with Student Life says stigma may or may not have played a role in attendance.
“Sometimes it’s hard to be a part of something so public,” she says.
Despite the turn out, she is optimistic about the progress to reduce stigma on campus.
“We have a lot of students who self-refer and to me that’s a promising sign, that they seek support when they need it,” she says. “I think we have a ways to go for sure, but there’s a lot of students out there who are willing to talk about mental health and mental illness.”
The program featured a collection of short films about mental illness, guided discussions, a panel of campus mental health experts and free food.
Students watched three to five minute films while eating sandwiches provided by the school and then discussed their feelings in smaller groups.
Two student speakers shared their personal experiences with mental illness and mental health counsellors from UOIT and Durham College spoke about the mental health resources available on campus.
The program is run through Art with Impact, an organization that talks to students across North America about mental health.
Natalie Daley, the Canadian program manager of Art with Impact says she isn’t worried about how many people attended because it varies from school to school, ranging from 20 to 300 attendees.
“The first few films we had really good discussions, that is what is important at the end of the day, the take-away people will have,” she says.
Starting conversations with students about mental health is the goal of the program.
“It’s the first step, to creatively talk about these issues in a way that is safe for them,” she says. “Being able to use the narratives and the protagonists in the films to talk about it.”
She organizes events such as Movies for Mental Health for Ontario universities and high schools to raise awareness of mental health and connect students to nearby resources such as school counsellors.
Mason Verkruisen, a nuclear engineering and management student at UOIT, attended the event to find out how the campus handles mental illness.
He says he suffered from a mental illness and is happy the school is getting the message across because most people don’t want to talk about these types of issues.
“If you have a best friend who is depressed it’s a lot easier to be like, ‘that’s not my problem. I have midterms of my own to deal with,’” Verkruisen says.
Bellehumeur says awareness is important because stigma prevents students from seeking help with mental illness or reaching out to others.
She says the two main problems are social stigma and stigma within yourself.
“If we can get over these barriers, it will be such a huge opportunity to access support, access empowerment, to be able to feel that mental health isn’t something to be ashamed of. It’s something someone can work through and cope with.”